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Big government is still not conservative

Here’s a worthwhile article by monarcho-symp Rothbardite PC victim Hans-Hermann Hoppe: The Intellectual Incoherence of Conservatism. The point of the article is that there is no “Disraelian,” “big government,” “social nationalist” or even “compassionate” conservatism, at least not today and not as the last is now understood. The basic problem is that you aren’t going to have individual integrity, family values, community cohesion or religion if you have the welfare state, because the welfare state says that government is the hand of providence, and that individual integrity, family values and community cohesion don’t really matter because the government sees to it that everyone ends up in an OK place anyway.

Since he’s an economist Hoppe insists on economic law: taxes on productive behavior inhibit it, and subsidies for improvidence and antisocial behavior call forth supplies thereof. There are other ways to make the same points if it doesn’t seem humanistic enough to say that “immutable economic laws” (Hoppe uses the expression) determine human behavior. You can say, for example, that the attempt to administer well-being centrally is an attack on the irreducible dignity and significance of the choices made by the human person, and it’s at odds with the social nature of man as expressed through his free self-organization. Hoppe’s way of speaking has the value of vigor and clarity, but there are other considerations as well, and to each his own.

For Hoppe, “welfare state” includes middle class benefits like public education and social security. I’m inclined to agree, at least for the most part. The point of public education is that the state takes over raising our children, and the point of social security is that the state looks after members of our immediate family (our parents) if they run into problems because of lack of cash. It is unclear why either is a good idea in the long run.

The general point is that the state can’t have general responsibility for results in individual cases. “Social justice” might be OK as a background regulatory ideal, but not as something for social policy to try to bring about directly. I’m inclined to think that Hoppe’s overly strict in some ways. I would think that without ruining everything local governments could run some social benefit programs, for example free prenatal clinics or homes for old people with no money and no family. You can do this or that as a particular accommodation without creating a general policy. On the other hand, if Hoppe wants to argue that today you have to have clear lines to avoid sliding into the modern megastate he might be right.

It does seem to me that Hoppe’s theory runs away with him a bit in his vehement opposition to tariffs. Division of labor aids production, but once you divide labor among ten or a hundred million workers, is the benefit from further subdivision and specialization really going to be that great? At some point it seems to me that other considerations, like promoting social solidarity through increased density of local contacts and dealings, would become more pressing.

Incidentally, if you’re inclined to think it’s morally obligatory to make individual welfare and equality direct goals of policy, you should take into account new studies suggesting that black males in the United States are falling ever further behind other groups in health, education and employment. The studies confirm what social statistics have always made clear: massive government interventions produce social disruptions that are bad for the vulnerable, and in particular the wonderful liberating civil-rights social-welfare 60s weren’t good for either poor or black people.

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